A new story from On Being


Life faith in the universe I hardly know what an asteroid is what god has been instructing me well how does it feel to have an asteroid named after you it was really fun to tell my dad you know I'm not giving in grand kids but at least he's got as long as it's not the one that comes and hits the earth were in good shape I'm Krista Tippett and this is on being mention the words Vatican and astronomy in the same sentence and many of us think of Galileo on trial yet the Vatican itself has an observatory that is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world it has one of the world's largest meteorite collections established by a French nobleman of the nineteenth century brother guy consul mine you know is the curator of those media rights pope Francis also appointed him the director of the Vatican observatory in two thousand fifteen father George Coyne was director when brother guy first came to work there I spoke with them together in two thousand ten at the university of Arizona where the Vatican observatory has a research center I'd like to ask each of you first of all just a little bit of a little bit about how you where you came from and got into this and I I think I know a little bit more about further guidance from the autobiographical writing it down but so let's start with father George you entered the Jesuit order when you're eighteen is that right where did you grow up that's correct I grew up in Baltimore Maryland went to a Jesuit high school okay they threw out the fishing net I was eighteen I didn't know any better image as all right or were you also a good student of science in interested in science a federal you'll have to talk to my teachers about that yeah I did like science through high school and I did reasonably well at it uhhuh I did my college education as a Jesuit so it was only then that I did my bachelor's degree in mathematics actually and had an interest in astronomy so that's how it all began and he became captivated by that at some point I did I did I mean it's a bit of a strange story because the the one that really turned me on to astronomy was my teacher of ancient Greek and Latin literature who was also an amateur astronomer father he Martin who taught me when I was what twenty twenty one years old and he would come into class and start teaching us the Greek codes and he was so enthusiastic even dance to them but he used to scratch his head I think he died of lead poisoning the scratches head with a pencil and say gentleman do you realize that tomorrow is the beginning of spring do you know what that means and of course we did so you go to the blackboard he traced the clip taken the celestial equator and so one day he called me and and he said every time I get distracted and talk about astronomy you're sitting on the edge of your chair with your eyeballs sticking out said father I love it and he said well we gotta get you reading well that's a great service to have our own history like that you know the serendipity things that happen yeah but enough about me that's how I got beginning yep okay in astronomy great I love that story okay so brother guy no you you actually were a scientist before you became attached to it you were born in Detroit is that right that's right mmhm when did you have a Catholic upbringing also yeah my father was Italian my mother Irish so it was a very Catholic upbringing but they're both college educated as well I was **** naked you know I started kindergarten the other Sputnik went up and so like all boys it was certainly boys back then in the late fifties and early sixties you were going to be a scientist and I got really immersed in that until I went to the Jesuit high school in Detroit in that point I found out the smartest kids studied Latin and Greek well so like George I did this so side view into ancient Latin ancient Greek and thought for a while ago and history maybe journalism maybe become a lawyer whatever what was my freshman year at Boston college that my best friend was going to MIT and I discovered that MIT had weekend movies and pinball machines and the world's largest science fiction collection so take advantage of all of that I transferred to MIT and I had to pick a major I saw as one of the choices earth and planetary sciences and a supplement to the thought that must be astronomy I'll do that when I got there when they finally let me in I discovered I signed up for geology and boy if I had known that I was going to be studying rocks or whatever I've done that until I discovered that some of the rocks or meteorites the rocks that actually come from outer space right and that was so exciting and asteroids have continued to be your specialty asteroids and meteorites and basically small bodies in the solar system how they're put together and how they evolve over time near your story it has some interesting turns you you've got your degree at MIT did post doctoral work at Harvard and MIT and anyone else quite doctorate actually from Arizona right now all right all right while I was on the faculty yeah that's what I'm and then you went into the Peace Corps and you've said that you couldn't see the point of studying stars when people are dying of hunger so when I ask you how you saw the point of studying stars differently when you went back to astronomy after Kenya well I joined the Peace Corps with the attitude I'll go wherever they ask me to go because they know better than me where they can use me and after looking at my record within two months I was at the university of Nairobi teaching astronomy to graduate students and that was my first clue that maybe there was more to astronomy than just you know looking at the stars for your own pleasure but even deeper than that was that I would go up country every weekend to my fellow Peace Corps volunteers places and had a little telescope with manta had about package of slides that I would show to realize that there are slight projectors that work on car batteries that they had these all over Kenya because it wouldn't be a whole lot of electricity but people still want to see the slides ahead of the stars no planets in everybody in the village for show up for the talks in everybody in the village of show to look through my telescope and they would show exactly the same who's in eyes looking at the craters of the moon that the rings of Saturn exactly the same as when I would set this up back in Michigan and it suddenly dawned on me well of course it's only human beings that have this curiosity to understand what's that up in the sky how do we fit into that who are we where do we come from and this is a hunger that is as deep and as important as a hunger for food because if you starve a person in that sense you're depriving them of their humanity and being able to feed this being able to make a person more human or make them welcome into the great adventure of the human race for the twentieth century going to the moon things like that that was really important to them and really important to everybody I talked to and suddenly all that's why we do this I think that the two of you I'm embody I I don't wanna say the relationship into the interrelationship between science and religion across history that has been forgotten or missed remembered the way in which you just as a number of questions that some of them science and theology or asking in different ways you know you're very much to me in the lineage of comparative because Kepler Galileo even Darwinists answering Galileo said I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use that this classic scientists believe that understanding the natural world was the best way to understand the mind of its maker so brother guy I know you've written as I see the pattern of creation unfolding over and over complexity from the simplest of route rules beauty from the surprising interplay basic forces I begin to get a closer appreciation of the personality of the creator tell me about that personality that you could discern well certainly pullovers responsible for this universe has a great sense of humor because whenever you're expecting something you get what you expect but from a very very different angle than the way you were expecting at the end of the the center of all humor we are constantly being surprised and delighted by the surprise also a creator who loves beauty it's not enough that the universe makes sense and we can come up with equations for them but the equations from the cells are beautiful I can remember I was teaching a few years ago at Fordham University I was teaching Maxwell's equations and there's a great thing where suddenly you can use Maxwell's equations Maxwell did this to come up with the fact that electricity and magnetism acts like a wave that moves at the speed of light and that slight waves and that's what makes radio possible and I remember getting to the point right just written that equation down when a student in the front of the class because all my god it's a wave and he also had gotten that sense of this is beautiful this is wonderful it's it's it's a it's a surprise and father George it seems to me that it's feels important to you in your writing to stress that science and religion are separate pursuits in that science in fact is neutral with it it doesn't have fiesta or if you stick implications in and of itself my take on the relationship my personal life okay is built upon the following I'm a scientist I try and understand the universe my understanding of the universe does not need god you're also suggesting you also suggested to talk about god in that way in some senses to diminish god and also to diminish the capacity of human intelligence that drive science that that is connected with god in your mind that's very true I think to drag guardian when we find that our science is in adequate to understanding certain events that we observe in the universe we tend to want to bring in god is a god of explanation the god of the gaps in care and we constantly do that new did you know if for religious believers were constantly tempted to do that and every time we do it we're diminishing god and we're diminishing science every time we do it what we are going to be doing is turning god into a pagan god you know god of thunder god of lightning got of mops and the Romans thought the Christians were atheists because they refuse to believe in that kind of god right but you know I think we're we're as in the in other centuries the god of the gaps idea worked for people I really do feel like in the twenty first century we feel that our science will answer all the questions right leap if you maybe you're talking about the science of the gaps at this point station discretion signs the gaps you know I'd like to add a word to this on.

Coming up next